In Edmonton the other day, Bruce Boudreau was praising Devan Dubnyk.
“Any good coach has a good goalie,” the Wild coach said.
The next day, Ken Hitchcock was fired by the St Louis Blues one win from tying Al Arbour for third on the all-time coaching list.
“Hitch” didn’t become a bad coach overnight. His goalies became bad goalies, though.
One year after the Blues had the NHL’s best save percentage at .919, the Blues, this season backstopped by Jake Allen and Carter Hutton, had a league-worst .887 save percentage despite the team allowing the fourth-fewest shots per game (27.6) in the NHL.
Hockey sometimes can be a complicated game. One thing is elementary. If you don’t get saves, you don’t get wins, and that’s the main reason the Blues have tumbled in the standings.
Since Dec. 8, only cellar-dwelling Colorado and Arizona have had a worse record than St. Louis. Since the Winter Classic, the Blues won four of Hitchcock’s final 12 games and allowed a league-high 3.83 goals per game. Allen had an .841 save percentage during that stretch.
Now, Mike Yeo, who guided the Wild to three postseasons and the conference semifinals twice, thanks once to eliminating the Blues, takes over.
If anybody knows goalie turmoil, it’s Yeo. He was with the Wild when Josh Harding was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He was with the Wild when Niklas Backstrom’s health and overall play declined and he uncomfortably was the third goalie all season without playing a second. He was with the Wild when Darcy Kuemper suffered through injuries and bouts of inconsistency.
In 2014, Ilya Bryzgalov saved the season. The next year, after Backstrom was shellacked in Chicago and Pittsburgh, Yeo, his team having the NHL’s worst save percentage, could have easily been shown the door one Jan. 14 off day in Buffalo.
Instead, GM Chuck Fletcher got him a goalie first. In came Dubnyk, and the Wild, for a second straight second half, erupted.
Not taking anything away from Dubnyk because he was brilliant while winning 27 games and starting 38 in a row, but the Wild, at that juncture, also needed any living, breathing … different goalie to regain confidence.
Look at the way the Blues visibly sagged against the Wild after a couple soft goals against Jan. 26.
They looked like the Wild of 2015.
If, as a team, you think any mistake will end up in the back of your net or you can’t trust that stoppable shots will be stopped, it eventually infiltrates your entire game.
Yeo needs to pray Allen gets his head on straight — he did make 26 saves in a 5-1 win over Toronto in Yeo’s coaching debut — or that GM Doug Armstrong’s next move is to acquire a goalie — maybe a Ben Bishop, Marc-Andre Fleury or Ondrej Pavelec — before the March 1 trade deadline.
To Armstrong’s credit, he struck the right balance at his emotional post-Hitch news conference. He took a dive on the sword himself, honored Hitchcock’s legend (no team had more than St. Louis’ 537 points under Hitchcock), pumped Yeo’s tires and hurled the pressure back onto the players.
Allen lost a safety net when Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary. Losing captain David Backes and Troy Brouwer to free agency hurt. But peruse the Blues roster, it’s still filled with outstanding players. This team should be contending for the division, not to make the playoffs.
Before the season, the Blues hired Yeo as coach-in-waiting. Hitchcock would coach one last season.
In October, Yeo said: “The things I’ve read are, ‘Who are the players going to listen to, Hitch or me? My comment to that is it doesn’t really matter as long as the message is the same from us.”
But that strange, abnormal power structure always gave Armstrong an out if the Blues failed. The players, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk alluded last week, knew it, too.
Perhaps, now that the awkward dynamic is gone, the Blues will soar. If anybody’s familiar with the second-half comeback, it’s Yeo.
But he will need some saves for that to happen.
• Colorado Avalanche winger Jarome Iginla, 39, in the final year of a three-year, $16 million contract, is willing to waive his no-trade clause to play for a contender.
“I would like to, at the deadline, go somewhere,” Iginla told Yahoo Sports. “I would like to be in the playoffs. I would hope that there is some opportunity to go and play in the playoffs. Those are the best games, the most fun for sure, and you have a chance to win.”
The Wild, the team he has roasted over the years, talked to him as a free agent before signing Thomas Vanek in 2014. Iginla, who has 617 career goals, is clearly on the decline though, so many contenders may be wary. He has six goals and six assists and is minus-17 in 48 games.
Top free agent rentals as the March 1 trade deadline approaches? St. Louis’ Kevin Shattenkirk, Arizona’s Martin Hanzal and Shane Doan, Detroit’s Vanek and Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop.
• It’s pretty unbelievable that serial slew footer Brad Marchand got away with two in the past two weeks. Two games after getting dinged for a $10,000 fine for tripping Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall, the Boston Bruins agitator did the same thing to Tampa Bay’s Anton Stralman.
The league couldn’t determine intent so it let Marchand get off scot-free.
In 2011-12, he got fined for slew footing Matt Niskanen. In 2014-15, he was suspended for the same against Derick Brassard.
After the Kronwall incident that cost him pennies compared to his recently signed eight-year, $49 million contract, Marchand said, “I’m sure [the Department of Player Safety is] getting sick of seeing me. That’s a little bit of stupidity there. A little unnecessary. I can play the game without doing that stuff.”
The league also needs to watch diver Matthew Tkachuk, the Calgary Flames rookie. Keith’s boy embellishes every other shift.
WILD’S WEEK AHEAD
Tuesday: 7 p.m. at Winnipeg
Wednesday: 7 p.m. vs. Chicago
Friday: 7 p.m. vs. Tampa Bay
Tue: FSN; Wed and Fri: NBCSN
Player to watch: Tyler Johnson, Lightning
The one that got away, Johnson very well could have been a Wild player today had he not injured his shoulder as a Wild invitee at the 2010 Traverse City prospect tournament.
“Out of 50 games, I’ll take that line.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau on the Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund line.
Michael Russo can be heard on 100.3-FM and seen on FSN Blog: startribune.com/russo Twitter: @russostrib E-mail: email@example.com